NMGW-9E8024: silver gilt reliquary pendant

Rights Holder: National Museums and Galleries of Wales
CC License:

Rights Holder: National Museums and Galleries of Wales
CC License:

Rights Holder: National Museums and Galleries of Wales
CC License:

Rights Holder: National Museums and Galleries of Wales
CC License:

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Unique ID: NMGW-9E8024

Object type certainty: Certain
Workflow status: Published Find published


The reported object is a silver gilt devotional reliquary pendant (weight 17.613g.). It is of rounded arch niche form, with one hinged door. This has been made with the hinge on the right, and was opened by removing a pin which slides through retaining tubes on the left side of the pendant. These mirror the appearance of the hinge on the right.

The front of the door has a damaged openwork panel in its centre. Two cast haloed figures kneel within a beaded circular frame. The figure on the left appears to be praying; that on the right appears to have arms crossed on the chest. When the pendant is closed, these small figures appear to flank a central figure visible within the pendant.

The main external faces of the pendant, front and back, are filled with engraved motifs. Flower motifs fill the lower corners of both faces. On the front, an angel with wings outspread sits slightly off-centre above the circular frame, in the top panel.

The back is engraved with a scene from the passion of Christ within a plain circular frame. The knotted rope binding Christ (scourge?) is depicted wrapped around the lower shaft of the cross, which has schematised rendering of wood grain and knotting. Engraved flowers fill the lower corners, while the head of a bearded Christ in Majesty, flanked by John (left) and ?Mary (right) or angels, fills the upper panel.
When the pendant is opened, a Trinity of haloed saints, each standing on a small pedestal, is revealed.
The central figure is John the Baptist, whose head is inclined to his right. His long hair extends below the shoulders, and he appears to wear a long cloak. Some of the moulding suggests camel-hair robes below his knee. John holds his emblem, an Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) on a book (?) (John I: 36), to which his right hand appears to be pointing. For a similar representation of St John in an illuminated initial letter, see St Johns's College, Cambridge, MS N.24, fo. 165r.

To John's left stands St Catherine, supporting her symbols - a broken wheel in her right hand, and a tall martyr's palm leaf in her left hand.

To John's right stands Mary Magdalene. Tresses of her long hair are suggested between the fingers of her right hand, and she holds a cylindrical ointment jar in her left hand. These symbolise popular belief about her anointing the feet of Christ with ointment and wiping them with her long hair. Transverse moulding on the jar resembles the turned decoration found on other representations of ointment jars (e.g. St Mary Magdalene c. 1450 on London, British Museum, Harley MS 2915, fo. 152r). As the supreme Christian penitent, Mary Magdalene was the patron saint of repentant sinners, and very popular in the Middle Ages.
The suspension loop is missing from the attachment lug, and appears to have been lost in antiquity (perhaps the reason for loss). The reliquary pendant has an overall height of 38mm, width of 30mm and thickness of 0.5mm.

Soil and roots inside the pendant were recorded and then removed, to facilitate a fuller description of the object. The pendant has not undergone any conservation.

Metal Content

To judge from its colour and weight and visual comparison with other silver items in the collections of the Department of Archaeology & Numismatics, the alloy is well in excess of 10% silver.


In terms of design and style of the iconography, the pendant was probably made during the first half of the 16th-century. Similar representations from the Passion cycle appear in printed sources such as The Passyon of Christ (published by Wynkyn de Worde, 1532; STC 14559) and Meditationes Jordani de vita et passione iesu christi (published by Richard Pynson, 1513; STC 14789). The angel at the top of the circular frame is reminiscent of some in woodcuts such as that by Wolf Traut, Rosary of the Virgin, c. 1510 (G.1415)
The form of the pendant is also found on some late medieval paxes. The style of the flower designs is reminiscent of those from Fairford (on glass), and early 16th century painted border patterns from Llandeilo Tal-y-bont church, Pontarddulais.

The pronounced beaded frame is a feature of other metalwork, such as the book mounts such as the Kress Missal, made in 1513 (Kahsnitz 1986, 192-3), and pendants, some with open backs (such as one in silver gilt depicting the Virgin and Child on a Crescent, early 16th century; Husband 1986, 325). For an engraved scene on a silver-gilt pendant within a plain circular border dated c. 1520, see Lightbown 1992, cat. no. 68). Circular frames also occur on late 15th-century reliquary pendant capsules.

During the early 16th-century, reliquary pendants with miniature cameo scenes, sometimes in enamelled gold, were particularly popular. Many post-date a change in liturgy that rendered osculatories obsolete, though the form of the Pembrokeshire pendant copies those of larger paxes (also kissed to celebrate the unity of the church through the bond of charity) - for example, the retable for private devotion set as a pax from the mid 15th-century from the Ernest Brummer Collection (Spink & Son 1979, no. 252). Many such objects were converted into reliquary pendants, intended to be worn as items of personal adornment of devotional purpose. The scenes on front and back would have been intended to engage the owner in meditation of Christ's life and suffering.


Summary and conclusions

The object is a reliquary pendant, made in silver gilt about AD 1500-1550.

It is my opinion that as an object which has at least 10 per cent by weight precious metal, and which is at least 300 years old, it is Treasure under Section 1 (1) (a) of the Treasure Act 1996.

Class: Reliquary

Subsequent actions

Current location of find: National Museum of Wales
Subsequent action after recording: Acquired by museum after being declared Treasure

Treasure details

Treasure case tracking number: 2007W7


Broad period: MEDIEVAL
Subperiod from: Late
Period from: MEDIEVAL
Subperiod to: Early
Date from: Circa AD 1500
Date to: AD 1550

Dimensions and weight

Quantity: 1
Length: 38 mm
Width: 30 mm
Thickness: 0.5 mm
Weight: 17.61 g

Discovery dates

Date(s) of discovery: Monday 1st January 2007

Personal details

Found by: This information is restricted for your login.
Recorded by: M Redknap
Identified by: Mr Mark Lodwick
Secondary identifier: M Redknap

Other reference numbers

Treasure case number: 2007W7

Materials and construction

Primary material: Silver

Spatial metadata

Region: Wales (European Region)
County or Unitary authority: Pembrokeshire (Unitary Authority)
District: Pembrokeshire (Unitary Authority)
Parish or ward: Kilgetty/Begelly (Community)

References cited

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Timeline of associated dates

Audit data

Recording Institution: NMGW
Created: 10 years ago
Updated: 8 years ago

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